Thursday, June 25, 2009

On the QT: The Man Who Wasn't There

All you need to know about Question Time today is that the first two questions asked by the opposition were about Rudd's dealings with John Grant - and they were asked by Tony Abbott not Malcolm Turnbull. They were about a fund raising event John Grant went to to raise money for Rudd's legal fees incurred in his defence action against the building of a parallel runway at Brisbane airport back in 2002-3. Abbott was in full Uriah Heep mode - 'umbly wanted just to know some information; not suggesting anything at all.

Pathetic. The story - which got a run in The Age - is the dumbest beat up we've had this week (and that says something). If buying a table at a fundraising dinner for Rudd while he was in opposition 5 years before he became PM is now wrong, then 95% of business people from Sydney will be stuffed should Turnbull ever get into power.

Malcolm Turnbull, you see, has a fundraising group known as the "Wentworth Forum" - Who is on it? Well for starters, how about: Frank Lowy, Ros Packer, John Simons, and Matt Handbury?

I'm sure Lowy, Packer, or Simons would want nothing from a Turnbull PM. How much does it cost to be part of this "forum"? Try $5,500 to $55,000. And that's just to get in the door. Back in 2007 it was expected that at the launch of the forum 150 would turn up. Even at the minimum $5,500 a head, that's $825,000... (though it is unlikely all 150 paid that 'little').

Now this launch was put on at Turnbull's home at Point Piper in August 2007. Here's what happened 3 months later...

Matt Hanbury (the fourth of those names above) was chairman and part-owner of the so-called Australian Rain Corporation. I tell you what - I'll let Tony Burke tell the rest (he told it in Parliament on Monday - and Turnbull has not refuted it):

There is an interesting organisation involved in what is described as ‘rainfall enhancement technology’—a company named the Australian Rain Corporation. Apparently they have decided to corporatise rain! The Australian Rain Corporation sought money and the National Water Commission commissioned an independent review of the technology that they were putting forward by a former senior CSIRO officer and professor of physical sciences and engineering from the ANU.

The National Water Commission insisted that the Australian Rain Corporation give a presentation of this technology to a panel of physicists. They then provided it with the research papers and made the presentation in Russian. The independent review concluded: ‘There is no convincing evidence that the Atlant technology operates as believed by its proponents.’

But in the end the department recommended that the member for Wentworth provide them with $2 million for a trial, which was arguably a generous offering, given what had been said about the technology. What did the Leader of the Opposition, as a minister, do with a recommendation to give them $2 million? He wrote to the Prime Minister seeking a lazy $10 million for the Australian Rain Corporation. You have to ask: what would be the circumstances of taking a departmental recommendation for $2 million and turning it into $10 million? Why would the Leader of the Opposition have done that as a minister?

This is where we discover that an executive of the Australian Rain Corporation happened to be a nextdoor neighbour of the Leader of the Opposition. The same person, the same neighbour, was a member of his electorate fundraising committee, the Wentworth Forum, with membership costing a cool $5,000 to get yourself into the room. If you want to find deals for mates, there are stories of deals for mates and there are stories that rest very squarely with the Leader of the Opposition.

Here's Turnbull on the 7:30 Report last night:
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Kerry, I am not going to talk about Mr Grech. I understand your interest in it, but this is a distraction from the real issue, which is cronyism and the way the Labor Party looks after its mates, rather than managing the economy and managing our finances in the interests of everybody.

Yep looking after mates....The worst the opposition can come up with is that Rudd may have raised on one of his trip to China the interests of an importation company that Grant is a co-owner of. No one has suggested he has done this since becoming PM. When Rudd starts giving a company owned by Grant $8 million more of Government funds than recommended by the relevant Department, get back to me. Until then, the ALP will love the issue of probity being raised, because it gives virtual permission for them to go through every bit of Turnbull's business career...

Turnbull himself didn't ask a question until Hockey had also asked two. It had taken so long for Turnbull to get around to asking one, that the Government benches cheered when he finally stood up.

It was a dumb question about the fake email. He then asked for a Royal Commission into OzCar. Which is rather stupid, given the program hasn't even been set up yet. There is also currently an Auditor's General inquiry underway into the whole process - surely if that reveals anything there will be time for a Royal Commission after that? But can you imagine the Royal Commission:

Commissioner: "Mr Grant have did you receive any money or credit from OzCar?"
Grant: "No".
Commissioner: "Well...errr OK then. I guess that wraps it all up. Thanks Mr Turnbull for wasting everyone's time and money."

Call me crazy, but I actually like my corruption scandals to involve actual money. If the big perk of being a mate of Rudd's is that Wayne Swan will ring you up and chat for 5 minutes, then call me silly, but I think I'll pass.
And if the Libs are so desperate for a Royal Commission, why didn't they agree to the Senate Inquiry into last Friday's Senate hearings? Guess they don't want to look at everything...

Julie Bishop then asked how Lindsay Tanner knew the email was fake before the AFP had announced it. He was a tad bemused by her line of questioning (and I guess it shows she hasn't heard of the internet). He pointed out that Joe Hockey had actually announced that the AFP had found the email in the house on Monday before anyone else. Bishop then asked the Attorney General if he had given Tanner a heads up. His response? "No"

It was a pretty dire affair for the Lib. They ran out of questions, and couldn't even muster the strength to launch a suspension of standing orders, which is often the go on the last day of a sitting period.

Turnbull obviously won't be dumped yet (though a bad Newspoll next week may hurry things up), but the entire Liberal Party know he's a dead duck and is only there because there's no one else.

Two weeks ago Turnbull came 94th in a poll of the 100 famous Australian people most trust (Rudd came 64th). On the basis of this week's effort, I somehow doubt he would have improved his position.

But that's it for winter. No more QT till Spring. It will be interesting to see what the topic of import will be then (not to mention the participants on either side of the dispatches box).

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